One of the fringe benefits of being a teacher is around the holidays, when some students do little things to let you know they appreciate you. One of the fringe benefits of teaching at a school with a large Hispanic population is that sometimes they show you their appreciation through authentic cuisine.
One time, at my night class, I mentioned the word "tamale" for some reason. The following class meeting, a nice woman in the back row brought me two tamales from her own kitchen. The night after that, the nice lady next to her brought me four. Soon, I was getting tamales of every flavor on a regular basis. Since I don't make tamales, I was in heaven for the rest of the semester.
One thing I discovered about tamales is that they take a long time to make and are a family affair. And, as with all traditions, making tamales provides a link that goes back many generations and is a primal act of love. Giving people food is one of the most intimate things you can do. So is preparing a dish that takes this much time. Nothin' says lovin' like tamales.
Likewise, in my family tradition, nothin' says lovin' like pepperkaker.
My Aunt Margaret made pepperkaker every Christmas for her three brothers and five brothers-in-law. We cousins all looked forward to this because these were some fine cookies. You could find them in stores if you looked hard and their were other home recipes. But nobody made them like Margaret. Her pepperkaker were potato-chip thin with just enough spicy bite.
Her sisters claimed that, whenever she shared the recipe with anyone, she always left out one ingredient so that no one would ever make them exactly like hers.
As each of her nephews turned eighteen, she made pepperkaker for them also. But we had a big family and, as she got older, the portions got smaller. I never had the luxury of my own coffee can full of pepperkaker, but I relished the pepperkaker I did get. I haven't had a pepperkaker in years--not one of Margaret's anyway--but I can still smell the ginger aroma as my dad first opened the lid of his coffee can and I can still taste the ginger and hear the snap as I bit into one.
I used to make these quasi-healthy chocolate chip cookies that I would pass around every Christmas. They aren't sugary sweet like most others. I adapted this recipe from one I found in Diet for a Small Planet. They have a balance of vegetable protein and complex carbohydrates. When I found out I was diabetic, I adapted the recipe by using date sugar instead of brown sugar and using salt-free butter.
I haven't made them in awhile, but I'm thinking I might revive this tradition.